Rich celebrates the FS in SF. Take that, Einstein, you buzz-killer!
We can all agree that Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein were geniuses who did more than pretty much anyone to further our understanding of the universe. When it comes to travelling around in cool spaceships, however, they’re a bloody nuisance. Newton’s laws of motion (in tandem with the lack of atmosphere in space) make Star Wars-style aerobatics incredibly problematic, while there’s arguably no bigger buzz kill for sci-fi than Einstein’s theory of relativity. By postulating that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, Einstein ensured that interstellar adventures were rendered more-or-less impossible – unless you don’t mind waiting (at least) four and a bit years to reach the nearest star.
The Expanse is unusual because it engages with the laws of nature head on. Confining its action to the Solar System, therefore ditching the need for faster-than-light travel, its version of getting around in space is a dangerous pursuit – travel means enduring painful accelerations and plotting complicated routes that take advantage of gravitational slingshots. It’s one of the most accurate portrayals of interplanetary travel we’ve seen on screen – and gives the show a gritty, lived-in feel. But reality be damned, I love the more out-there ways that sci-fi writers get around physics. Star Trek relishes its fake science so much that books have been written on how tech that borders on witchcraft could be justified in a scientific context. Indeed, mixing matter and antimatter would be a plausible and efficient energy source if we could handle them in sufficient quantities, while warp drive fudges that “faster-than-light” issue by having starships compress space. Discovery’s spore drive, which allows the ship to surf a network of fungus in an instant, is so crazy as to be genius. Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica, meanwhile, use thrusters to change direction at low speeds, but bend reality by resorting to “jump gates” and an FTL drive for larger distances. Dune blurs the lines between science and magic by having its Guild Navigators use the Spice to “fold” space. And then there’s Star Wars. Star Wars basically doesn’t give a shit about science, happy to just have the Millennium Falcon doing casual loop-the-loops and hopping to planets on the other side of the galaxy in a few hours. And you know what? I’m totally cool with that too.
Rich’s perception of space-time has radically altered since he wrote this.